(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.)
RES: $90M impact Ault: No going back
Note: This is the third of three stories about the wind energy forum hosted Thursday by Fulton County Commissioners. Monday’s article featured Fulton County officials, the financial impact and legal requirements. On Friday was a general overview
BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Sentinel
Attendees of a public forum last week heard very differing opinions on the impact a wind energy development project could have on Fulton County and its residents.
Brad Lila, director of development for RES – a renewable energy company interested in bringing 133 wind turbines to the county at an estimated investment of $591,055,643 – spoke about the potential benefits of the project.
“For the life of this project, the landowners in this county could get paid upwards of $90 million,” Lila said. “We’re looking at roughly, in this entire project area, 60-80 permanent jobs.”
He said that doesn’t account for the more than 300 construction jobs.
“There are a lot of construction folks here tonight, local construction folks that would very much appreciate the opportunity to build this project,” he said. “A project this size could take potentially two years, and that’s two years of really good income for those folks.” In a Thursday morning interview with The Sentinel, Lila said turbines could start going in by the spring of 2019 and be generating power by December of that year.
“We could even potentially start construction of access roads and turbine foundations in late 2018,” he said.
However, development of RES’ proposed wind farm is on hold until commissioners affirm, deny or modify a set of proposed amendments to the county’s commercial wind energy zoning ordinance.
A public hearing on them has been tentatively set for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20. A location for the hearing has not yet been determined.
During the public meeting, Lila stated that opposition to wind energy is “simply out of the fear of the unknown” and because “it’s difficult to accept change.”
“Wind energy is one of the most widely accepted and embraced forms of rural energy in the world. It is a technology that’s been around for decades, with over 50,000 wind turbines in the United States and over 225,000 turbines in the world,” he said. “It is an emotional subject, we fully understand that, but when wind turbines are constructed around the world, issues just go away.”
The latter comment drew laughter from those opposed to the project.
Lila went on to say that there are no scientific publications to support claims that wind turbines cause adverse health effects or devaluation of property. He called upon Christopher Ollson, an environmental health scientist from Canada whom RES paid, to speak on those claims.
“Statistically or medically, we’re not seeing the concerns that some of you may be reading on the internet,” Ollson said. He concluded there is no proof that properly located wind turbines cause widespread concerns, complaints or issues.
Speaking about the county’s proposed setbacks, Ollson said the infrasound and low-frequency noise that would be generated by the wind turbines would be “well below anything that would be a cause for concern.” He noted shadow flicker from wind turbines could be a nuisance but is not a health concern.
He also said the risk of ice being thrown off a wind turbine and striking a house, vehicle or person is “very, very low,” and the probability of a blade breaking off and striking an individual is less than being struck by lightning or being in an airplane crash.
In conclusion, Ollson said the county’s ordinance is well-designed and supported by the scientific merit of more than 80 available peer-reviewed articles.
Following other presentations, an audience member with a raised voice asked, “Is there anyone out there who can give us the opposing point of view?”
“I’m here!” Aaron Ault responded.
Ault, a senior researcher at Purdue University and a fourth-generation Fulton County farmer, spoke on behalf of the Fulton County Property Rights group.
“… I come to this discussion heavily biased toward government not telling residents what they can do with their own land,” he said. “Clearly we can all agree that one of the core purposes of the commissioners is to side in favor of the county’s residents when there is a significant risk to public safety, health and welfare.”
He questioned: “Would you consider it the job of the commissioners to seriously consider transforming an agricultural county where the residents expect to be surrounded by crops, livestock and fall foliage into an industrial city with 300 skyscrapers, each taller than every single building in Indianapolis except the tallest one, Salesforce Tower?”
He said the three main concerns of Fulton County residents are their safety, health and financial welfare.
“You, as county commissioners, have been tasked with deciding how far from our homes and property lines these rotating skyscrapers can be planted. This decision will change the lives of all the people in this room except the RES representatives, who will leave,” he said. “If building the turbines turns out to be a mistake, and it has become that for so many other counties in the U.S. and abroad, then unfortunately it is a permanent mistake. There is no going back.”
He asked commissioners to adopt a wind turbine setback of 2,640 feet, or a half mile, from a property line.
“Vestas, a Dutch manufacturer of wind turbines that are among those sold by RES, states in their operational safety manual that their own workers should not linger within 1,640 feet of the turbines. Yet, RES would like to place turbines only 1,200 feet from our homes,” he said.
Ault stated that turbulence from wind turbines will prevent emergency helicopter service from reaching many areas of the county. He also noted that the county’s fire departments are not equipped to fight a turbine fire.
In speaking of noise and shadow flicker, Ault said, “These have been found by the residents who live around them and in scientific studies all over the world to cause severe dizziness, vertigo, nausea, lack of sleep, depression, headaches and migraines.”
He added: “The list goes on and on. I want you to pay close attention to that list because you or someone you know in the county will experience some of these and you cannot say you did not know about this ahead of time.”
Ault also presented a chart showing that from 1980-2017 there were more than 2,000 wind turbine incidents. More specifically, there were reportedly 58 incidents per year for 37 years.
“You can scan the list, you’ll see plenty of fatal, fire, human injury, structural failure, human health problems …” he said.0
He said there would obviously be devaluation of property as a result of RES’ project because “nobody looking at buying a house would consider proximity to a 600-foot buzzing, blinking, rotating skyscraper.”
FEDCO supports RES plan
BY WESLEY DEHNE
Staff Writer, The Rochester Sentinel
Members of the audience at Thursday’s wind energy forum, organized by county commissioners, spoke both for and against a wind farm in Fulton County. Some people said they’re still undecided.
Comments from members of the 300-plus person audience:
- Terry Lee: “After weighing many factors and various information, including the following general overview, the Fulton Economic Development Corp. Board has chosen to support and urges your support for the development of wind energy opportunities in Fulton County.”
- Alan Reese: “Did you know that there are over 300 residents in Fulton County that are skilled, tradecraft people. They would love to be working on this project. The economic outlook is very good. The tax dollars, even as minute as they may be, will help everybody.”
- Joe Wegner: “One of my concerns is the fact that we’ve had this meeting at this point versus five or six months ago when the project was first set up. I also have problems and concerns about if we have any recourse that the recourse is going to be handled by the plan commission, which has been nothing but complicit with the whole project … I really don’t have any faith in the Fulton County government to listen to the people that are going to have complaints.”
- Scott Fred: “There should be a complaint resolution system as part of our ordinance that is handled by the county, so that there is a factual recording of complaints that there are problems of noise, flicker and other problems caused by wind turbines. … We can’t leave our health and safety concerns up to a wind developer.”
- Derek Kaser: “I’ve been a Fulton County resident my entire life and I fully support this project. Not only do I believe it would be economically and environmentally friendly, I believe it will bring great jobs to our community and residents.”
- Debbie Fred: “There has been a lot of talk tonight about our property values not decreasing. If that’s so, I would like a guarantee. According to a 2009 study by Appraisal Group One in Wisconsin, it was found in all cases with a 1-5 acre residential property, whether vacant or improved, there would be a negative impact in property values. If what the wind developer says is true and our property values will not decease then RES should be willing to give all property owners in the project footprint written guarantees for property values …”
- Pat Brown: “I walked in truly undecided. I like the idea of alternative energy … and finding new and better ways to do things. Most of the people who are going to come here and work full time during the duration of the construction are not Fulton County. The promise of money … the numbers shown will get me almost a tank and a half of gas in years savings. Small towns are small for a reason, most of us could live somewhere else if we chose to. We’re not here because we’re getting rich. Saving me $96 a year in my taxes doesn’t really mean much to me when I’ve got a red blinking light like Erie Avenue back in the ’50s in Logansport. When I walked in tonight, I talked to one of the commissioners, who called me a Kool-Aid drinker … I’m serious when I say I want to talk about something. Being called a Kool-Aid drinker made up my mind.”
- Rebecca Van Horn: “We’ve learned from other counties that the construction of industrial wind turbines can be very disruptive to the lives of the people living in the construction site due to the size and the noise of equipment used in construction. The location of access roads should be in the ordinance and should specify that access roads for industrial wind turbines not be located near homes.”
- Patsy Clark: “I’m here to get an education. I have always been an environmentalist and I came through Fulton a couple weeks ago, saw the signs that said no wind farm, and I thought ‘Why would we not want clean energy?’ At the end of the day, there’s a bigger overview here, I think, than what we’re dealing with here tonight, and that is we need sustainable energy in this country and we need clean energy. I hope that the technology of today and the wind generators, if they are indeed put in this county, will be a real asset to the county, to the people and create a good, healthy situation for all of us.”
- Brian Richter: “I was undecided when I walked in the door, and at the moment I’m still undecided. A couple of things I didn’t see tonight that I would have liked to see is the economic impact from income tax that this project would bring for the county, and then also what the county is going to do with that money. Where will this county be in 25 or 50 years with this project or without this project?” You’re never going to please everybody, so we just gotta understand what the whole benefits are …”
- Rhonda Smith: “My property cannot be used as a safety easement for an industrial wind company without my permission and compensation. That is a land grab, and the commissioners are allowing the company to steal the use of my property when they make the setbacks from a house instead of property lines.”
- Jim Perry: “We feel very comfortable having windmill energy in our land. Our information from relatives, farm operators and other folks living near windmills has been favorable. They say they’re safe, clean and installed responsibly. Landowners should have the right to use their land responsibly to generate income from these windmills.”
- Elaine Bye: “I’m in favor of alternative energy sources, but health and property and agricultural rights must be honored. I’m totally against forcing wind turbines on landowners, which seems to happen if easements in zoning are not carefully established.”
- Russ Phillips: “… There is something else that I think we can all identify with. Two words: Common sense. If I have a tower 1,200 feet in front of me, 1,200 feet to the right of me, 1,200 feet behind me, 1,200 feet to the left of me, common sense tells me I’m going to incur some noise, and not only noise, but also some property devaluation.”